Saturday, August 30, 2008

With a little help from my friends....

I'm living a little higher up on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs this week. I wasn't sure I would blog about the situation I was dealing with last week but I think that I should more for the good that has come out of it than the bad.

The quick version is that my 13-year old host sister broke into my locked room and took some things that were later returned after I brought it up with my host mom. Needless to say, I didn't feel comfortable staying there any longer so I spent a couple days in bureaucratic limbo with the Peace Corps before I was officially allowed to move in with three volunteers from Chile and Bolivia who live in town. I had to be approved to 1) be exempted from the rest of the 6- week family stay (I was just over halfway through) and 2) have my new place of residence ok'ed by the safety and security coordinator. Luckily that all came through by Friday, but it was a stressful couple of days when I was living out of my backpack hoping PC would approve everything so I could move all the rest of my things.

I take this as a case of a 13-year old with problems, not a factor of Nicaraguan culture or the fault of my host family or even Peace Corps for placing me there. My host mom, Martha, has continued to be incredibly wonderful by bringing me lunch and other random food and offering to lend me a bed and any other furniture I might need. I can easily say that now I'm much happier to be living within walking distance of school, with people my age, but I still have a good relationship with Martha and I'm meeting more locals here in town. I have a very unique living situation, but it will only last until December at the latest when my housemates are finished with their year-long service. However, there's a German volunteer coming next weekend who I hope will be cool and a potential housemate since he'll be here for a year.

Yesterday I attended my first TEPCE, I don't remember what it stands for, but every last Friday of the month all the teachers in the municipality get together by subject to plan lessons for the coming month. This gave me the opportunity to meet the English teachers from some of the surrounding communities that I have yet to visit. I received a very warm welcome from the five new teachers as well as the four I already knew and I have plans to visit two of the teachers at their schools next week.

Last week I was concentrating a lot on me and my situation so it was a change to go back to thinking about my work here. I'm only required to teach 15 classroom hours a week at the instituto so I'd like to start teaching community classes or pick up other projects. I've realized how unique this independence/open-endedness is to Peace Corps because my housemates pretty much work a regular 9 to 5 with NGOs, with work plans and the whole bit. My existence here is much more of my own making and since I haven't had an influx of people asking for English classes like many volunteers told us we would, I need to do some more legwork to find students and a facility. However, one of the teachers from the TEPCE asked if I would be willing to teach a weekend class in his community about 4 km away so that's at least a start.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Changed my mind again

So maybe I will write a real blog post :) I happen to be bumming in the office in Managua at the moment, waiting for my friends to return from the grocery store so I've got some time.

I wanted to share a positive story because I feel like I've been pretty negative on here lately. This is a little ironic because this week I've been lacking some basics on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs but I'm still gonna share this story because I need some positivity in my life.

One thing I've noticed in the classes I teach is that, much like in the U.S., you have your good students and not so good students. When there are upwards of 30 or 40 students in a class, I really can't fault my counterpart for concentrating on the better students because in that kind of environment it's virtually impossible to make sure everyone is learning. However, I think some of the not so good students could be better with just a little attention. Positive feedback can go a long ways with these kids.

Anyway, the story: the 2nd year students were practicing reading a dialog and there were two girls who were clearly not interested in participating in any way, shape, or form. They were shooting hate beams out of their eyes, I think that's a cross-cultural way of saying "just let me be and no one gets hurt." But of course we couldn't let them be so instead I sat down with their group to decide parts and work on the pronunciation. One of the girls claimed she couldn't read any of it so we worked particularly on her part. I was so impressed when their group stood up to present and she did a great job! And all of a sudden there were no hate beams, she was smiling and happy to actually receive some praise for her work, something that may not happen very often.

This teaching bit is a challenge, but there are little positive moments like that to give me a little more motivation. Many days I'm amazed any of these kids learn anything in over-crowded, dilapidated classrooms that are oftentimes super hot and loud and in some cases very smelly (the ones next to the bathrooms, need I say more). I learn something here everyday.

New Address

I changed my mind and went in on a PO Box with a couple other volunteers in a nearby town. Gifts of chocolate, pens, DVDs, books, and anything else can now be sent here:

Apartado Postal 0141
Jinotepe, Carazo

I've had an interesting week, I had a cheerful blog post all written on my flashdrive and Blogger hasn't been loading on the computers at school so I haven't been able to post. Right now I'm at the office in Managua and am feeling lazy, so you all will have to wait a little longer to hear my joy of teaching moment from last week

Monday, August 11, 2008

Face Five!!

I´ve decided that my blog needs a point system, so 10 points if you get the Scrubs reference in the title. Keep track of your points and I´ll bring a hammock or something for whoever has the highest total when I come back to the States. I pulled out my Scrubs collection last week for the first time and I´m still reeling from the pure happiness it brings me.

In case you don´t get the reference, a Face Five is a Slap In The Face and I feel a little like that for a variety of reasons. The biggest one right now is that the woman who has been directing our program just resigned. This is difficult to swallow because we just started our service and I felt comfortable coming to her with any problems I might encounter, but now that´s up in the air. We do have other staff support from Peace Corps, but it´s not the same really.

Today I´m gonna start teaching!! This morning I coplanned with Teacher #1, he´s been teaching for 9 years and has notebooks filled with lesson plans so it wasn´t too hard to figure things out. I´ve already been thrust full-throttle into office politics, Nicaraguan-style here at my school. Nothing super negative, but there are natural alliances formed among the staff and teachers that are very politically driven at times. For example, the Ministry of Education (MINED) delegate for the area wants the teachers to sing/teach the students a hymn about President Ortega (or something like that, it´s not the national anthem I know that) and the director is supporting her on this despite many teachers being against it because they belong to different political parties. I´m trying to figure out the best way to navigate the social waters of the school, but for now I´m everyone´s friend because I don´t know anyone anyway.

Last week I meet a group of two Chileans, a Bolivian, and a German who are working in the area and with whom I will hopefully live for a couple months come September. Other than that, I still feel pretty disconnected from my site itself by living so far away so I´m hoping they can introduce me to some people, nonprofits, anyone really.

Peace Corps is trying really hard to cut costs right now and will soon be canceling their massive subscription to Newsweek, so my request to my general public today is for any of you news junkies to send me interesting articles about anything really. I used to read a ton of news in DC so now I need a new outlet. I know some of you still spend half of your days at work reading the Post, help me out here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lessons in Nica Culture

Although I'll post this at a later date, today is August 5th and that means that 3 months ago today I left Minnesota for the unknown... er, DC I guess. But still. Happy 3 month anniversary, self! (edit: Today's the 7th, which means that it's my 3 month anniversary in-country! I take whatever milestones I can get.)

This photo demonstrates two pieces of Nicaraguan culture: 1) pretty painted nails, and 2) pointing at things with your lips. My new host mom continues to make it abundantly clear that she has adopted me into the family, mostly by feeding me copious amounts of food. Sunday we spent the day at the beach and last night she painted both my fingernails and my toenails with tiny flowers. I've been instructed to let my toenails grow longer so she can fit the white stripe on the top because that's what makes it classy. After years of cramming my feet into toe shoes for ballet class, long toenails freak me out, but I'll give it a try in the name of refinement. Needless to say, things are going very well with my housing arrangement here.

As for #2, if you ask for directions, you may think you're being hit on but really you're being pointed in the right direction by a pair of lips. I haven't assimilated yet to the point of really using this tactic myself, but don't be surprised if I come back to the States pointing at things with my mouth.

I don't know if it made it on the news wherever you may be, but last week the Mercado Oriental in Managua burned to the ground. The Oriental is the biggest market in Nicaragua and also in Central America. I've been told you can find just about anything there, someone once said that if you wanted to build yourself a helicopter that you could find all the parts you want in the Oriental. It's also a fairly dangerous place where people get mugged a lot and as a foreigner, I'm supposed to avoid it at all costs. From what I can gather, illegal tapping of power lines is what started the fire and they couldn't get water in fast enough so it burned all night Thursday and through the day on Friday. Pretty much every one of the approximately 1,500 stores was destroyed. This will have a huge impact on prices here because so many goods are distributed out of that market. My host mom has a little clothing shop in our local market here and had actually been at the Oriental earlier on Wednesday to buy goods to sell. So one more thing on top of inflation and transportation costs that will make living in Nicaragua more expensive, joy!

Finally, the same address applies if you feel like sending something my way (just switch the PCT after my name to PCV since I'm not a Trainee anymore but a Volunteer!). That address will be valid the whole time I'm here, it's the Peace Corps PO Box in Managua, but if I decide to get a PO box at my site I'll let you all know.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Sweet Home Not Quite Alabama

I woke up this morning and laid in bed listening to Sweet Home Alabama and staring at the zinc roof over my head. I had to laugh at myself. That song always reminds me of the rural town I grew up in and here I am in the Peace Corps, in Nicaragua, listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd to ready myself for my day.

I've found myself turning on my iPod in the mornings more and more over the past few weeks. It's amazing what a couple upbeat songs can do for my mood, at any time of day really. Yesterday I turned on Ruby Ruby Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs and reminisced about playing Guitar Hero with my girls in DC (miss you guys!). Sometimes thinking back helps to remind me more why I'm here than thinking about the present because at the present, I'm off by myself in my site and no longer have a giant group of gringos to lean on for support.

Since I arrived back here on Sunday, most of my time has been spent at the instituto observing classes (and sitting through a three hour staff meeting, gah!), walking around town, and laying in the hammock at home. Needless to say, it's been a slow week and anyone who knew me during college especially knows that I don't always deal with downtime very well, so this is a challenge. And because my home stay is a taxi ride out of town that I really can't afford to take more than once a day (or even once a day it seems like), once I'm back in my quiet little pueblo, I'm here for good.

There are definitely little successes and little (or big) frustrations everyday. The homestay thing is a big frustration, as is the general awkwardness I'm going to have to endure as I try to make friends and integrate into the community. But I am getting to know people and overall everyone's been very welcoming and nice. And I'm pretty excited about my teacher counterparts, the woman I'm working with is quiet but I think there's a lot I can do to help her with both her English and teaching methods. My male counterpart is pretty talkative and I believe he's motivated to improve his teaching, though he's doing a good job already. Oh, and I'm frustrated because I got bright pink gum on my white pants yesterday at school, but my host mom says she knows how to get that out :)

So that's what I've been up to, I hope to have more exciting stories than getting gum on my pants, but quite frankly I think that's gonna be the highlight of the week this time around. Oh, that and getting in a taxi and discovering that the driver is my neighbor. Send me updates, people, I have free time again!